Success Quotient is a weekly feature that appears every Friday on Firstpost, which looks at the pains and joys en route to success for a head honcho - whether a CEO, MD or an entrepreneur. The column looks at the ideas that helped launch a company, its highs and lows.
When Sameer Parwani, founder and CEO, CouponDunia.in decided to set base in India from the US where he was born and raised, as the start-up’s growth necessitated the move, his parents were anxious about the move. “I had only visited India sporadically with my parents to visit relatives. To go to a place that I was not familiar with at all, was a leap of faith I took and it has paid off,” says the enthusiastic and cheerful 31-year-old.
CouponDunia Media Private Ltd., launched coupondunia.in in 2010. It lists coupons and offers on its site for almost 'all e-commerce websites' in India that can be availed to save on a purchase. Coupondunia gets commission from the merchants for every purchase made. The start-up has been generating revenues since its launch, says Parwani.
The early bird
He has been successful in almost all his earlier ventures. As a 19-year-old studying at Cornell University, Parwani noticed that the Indian diaspora were disconnected and launched RateDesi.com in 2003. It ran on the lines of the American site Hot or Not where people rated each other on various parameters such as attractiveness, etc. RateDesi.com soon became the touch point for NRIs and South Asian youngsters born in the West.
The site grew to be the world's largest social network for South Asian youths outside the subcontinent with over 350,000 registered users and a message board with over 12 million posts. The site's users primarily were from the USA, UK, and Canada.
“I enjoyed doing something that everyone could use and valued the feedback,” says Parwani. At one point, he made $100,000. “That was a high for someone in his 20s, but I was happy that the site led to people becoming friends, some even finding their future partners and getting married.”
Graduating in computer science from Cornell University, Parwani took up a corporate job. He recalls with much enthusiasm working in a 35-storey building as a 23-year-old in Manhattan. “I wanted to work in a well-known firm which I did with PricewaterhouseCoopers as an Information Security consultant. I worked with clients who were industry giants like as IBM, Citigroup and others. I enjoyed my work tremendously, but a year and a half later I left as I wanted to start-up.”
Leaving a career that was blossoming wasn’t a tough call, says Parwani. Perhaps, that was because he excelled in whatever project he took up. “I have very high expectations from myself,” he says, revealing his mental make-up. “I am determined to succeed in anything that I want to do. Isn’t that how you aim for success, by believing in yourself and your dreams?” he remarks.
Parwani traversed the relevant pit stops in the e-commerce space launching a few sites before hitting it home with garamdeals that was later renamed as coupondunia.
From Boston, Parwani looked at the potential the site could leverage if it was launched for an Indian audience with a humongous population over 1 billion. Based in Boston, Parwani launched garamdeals in 2010. He found that people were curious enough to visit the site but would hesitate to join. Working at night and becoming nocturnal became a way of life for Parwani running a website for Indians. As the website grew, Parwani felt he had to be in India if the site had to realise its true potential. In August 2012, with a pregnant wife in tow, he moved to India. “My parents were upset as they were denied an opportunity to see their first grandchild,” he says.
Finding the sweet spot
The company soon grew to be the 'No 1 coupon website in India’. Electronics and mobile recharges are the most sought after coupons at the site. CouponDunia Media Private Ltd., operates Cupomworld in Brazil, KuponDunya in Turkey, KodyBony in Poland and CouponDunia in Indonesia.
The company was acquired by Times Internet. It closed FY15 with over 20 crore revenues, says Parwani.
Competition is rife in the sector with at least eight to nine sites chosen by consumers for its popularity and deals offered. However, competition is not a blip on Parwani’s mental radar. “We don’t look at competition,” says Parwani in a calm tone. “We are focused on giving increased value to the consumer. Over 80 percent of our work is built on trust. We give the best offers and have over seven million users on our site. The age group between 21-27 is the most active with three fourth of the males driving the traffic on the site.”
The focus for 2016 will be to drive business through mobile. “We are continuing our focus on mobile. There have been 2.5 millon downloads for our mobile app. Traffic continues to be strong through the app. We want to keep users engaged on the go. We are working on two new products: To significantly shift our business model and to have people come to us for transactions. We need to monetize our traffic ourselves,” he says, sharing his plans.
The company plans to look at external funding after it launches new products in mid-March.
Life in India
Parwani is kept very busy with his work cut out for him in India and across other geographies that he has no time to indulge in personal pursuits. But he says, “My wife and I love to travel. We try and make time for travel."
In India for four years now, Parwani has not yet been able to learn the Hindi language. “There are things to adapt in India. If you are busy with anything in your life, then most of the day is devoted to it. I have no complaints though. My office is five minutes from home. People have long commutes to make. We get a lot of help here in India. That has made us settle comfortably here. ”